• nancy willbern

Pneuma: Part One


Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is an ancient Greek word for breath.

It also refers to the vital spirit, soul or creative force of a person.


Listening to or watching the news these days is overwhelming -- the years of desolation in Yemen, the thousands of displaced refugees across the world, wars, famine, territorial feuding, the rise of authoritarian dictatorships, the continued race disparity here in our country, along with our current debilitating political polarization. The news-hour comes to a close and I ask myself, “What in the world can I do about any of this?” I have no idea. I am left feeling powerless and heart-broken. The magnitude of all of it literally takes my breath away.

Last week, I listened to an interview with Jungian analyst, master story-teller and myth expert, Michael Mead. In the course of his sharing he spoke of a not-so-obvious but relevant relationship between George Floyd’s now iconic final words, “I can’t breathe,” to the deleterious effects of the Covid-19 virus leaving its victims also gasping for breath. In recent times, there has also been much talk about our loss of Soul. I don’t think this is a mere coincidence that these three phenomena are occurring at the same moment in history. I think they are inextricably intertwined. Each is a symptom of an underlying crisis, a crisis of separation.

In the creation story as relayed in Genesis, God creates all of the heavens and earth, all of the creatures of the land, air and sea, including humankind. And then He breathes his breath into Adam and the man became a living Soul. And there it is, the first connection between breath and Soul.

It wasn’t long after that that Adam and Eve were tempted to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which according to the serpent, the one with forked tongue, would make them as wise as the gods, able to decide for themselves, to think on their own. God, however had told them that eating from that particular tree would surely lead to their death. Disregarding God’s warning, Adam and Eve decided to go it alone and take their chances. With that fateful first bite, it’s as if they decided to breathe on their own, cutting themselves off from the creative Life-Force that birthed them into existence and their very Soul-connection.

We, those of us living at this particular moment in history are suffering the long-term consequences of that original severing. It is no wonder that we are surrounded by victims of suffocation. We have lived too long breathing in our own stale, recycled air. We have lived too long disconnected from each other, our earth and our animating Source. Without those connections, we are left lost, empty, overwhelmed and embattled. We are left Soul-less.

Trying to come up with solutions for national or global problems is overwhelming. We can’t do it on our own. It’s all too big. But there is something that we can do. We can realize all the gifts that have come from our ability to divide and sort, categorize and evaluate, to know our own minds, but now at this juncture, in our time, we can turn around and gather in all that has been divided. We can choose to reconnect to the Creative Life-Force that breathed us into existence and kindled our sacred Souls.



For more on practical suggestions for how to do this, stayed tuned to Pneuma: Part Two


Image credit: Gerd Altman on Pixabay


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